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Cadet 2nd Class Michael O'Kelley talks to Chief Master Sgt. James Roy about the Air Force Academy's falconry program during a visit to the academy's mews Oct. 1, 2010. The mews is a special facility designed to house the academy's 12 falcons, including Aurora.

Cadet 2nd Class Michael O'Kelley talks to Chief Master Sgt. James Roy about the Air Force Academy's falconry program during a visit to the academy's mews Oct. 1, 2010. The mews is a special facility designed to house the academy's 12 falcons, including Aurora. (Don Branum/U.S. Air Force)

Cadet 2nd Class Michael O'Kelley talks to Chief Master Sgt. James Roy about the Air Force Academy's falconry program during a visit to the academy's mews Oct. 1, 2010. The mews is a special facility designed to house the academy's 12 falcons, including Aurora.

Cadet 2nd Class Michael O'Kelley talks to Chief Master Sgt. James Roy about the Air Force Academy's falconry program during a visit to the academy's mews Oct. 1, 2010. The mews is a special facility designed to house the academy's 12 falcons, including Aurora. (Don Branum/U.S. Air Force)

Cadet Anthony Cannone trains falcon Aurora at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Aurora, who was the academy's mascot for 23 years, has died.

Cadet Anthony Cannone trains falcon Aurora at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Aurora, who was the academy's mascot for 23 years, has died. (Ken Wright/U.S. Air Force)

U.S. Air Force Academy mascot Aurora has died. The falcon was the longest-serving live mascot in the school’s 65-year history.

U.S. Air Force Academy mascot Aurora has died. The falcon was the longest-serving live mascot in the school’s 65-year history. (Ben Bloker/U.S. Air Force)

Aurora decelerates onto the glove of then-Cadet 1st Class Anthony Cannone, a U.S. Air Force Academy falconer, while practicing her flying performance for an upcoming football game in 2014.

Aurora decelerates onto the glove of then-Cadet 1st Class Anthony Cannone, a U.S. Air Force Academy falconer, while practicing her flying performance for an upcoming football game in 2014. (U.S. Air Force)

A rare falcon who served as the Air Force Academy’s mascot for 23 years has died, officials said.

Aurora, the academy’s longest-serving live mascot, died Wednesday, the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based service academy said in a statement.

“Her impact on the nearly 30 class years of cadet falconers and Falconry Team support staff cannot be overstated,” the statement said. “She was a feisty, spirited bird who commanded respect. We all feel her loss deeply.”

Aurora was a white phase gyrfalcon, a species that is “extremely rare in the wild and whose beauty will take your breath away,” says a falconry page on the academy’s website.

Only 3% of all falcons are gyrfalcons, the largest species of falcon, and of those, only 1% are white, the academy said.

Trained and handled by cadets, Aurora often appeared at sports and other events at the academy, and traveled to away games with Air Force teams.

In November last year, she was injured after West Point cadets kidnapped her in a prank before the annual Air Force vs. Army football game. The U.S. Military Academy apologized for what it called an “unfortunate incident,” and Aurora was back up and flying around her pen within days of returning to Colorado.

In addition to serving as a mascot, “she was an ambassador for all falcons, helping us educate the public on the importance of these majestic birds,” the academy said.

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